Bully for the Super Bowl?

In terms of the advertising cycle, the year isn’t quite over until the Super Bowl takes place. This major sporting event is almost like an exclamation point to the year just past, and it sets the tone for the months to come. Look at last year’s event: This dot-com blowout signaled that the Internet economy was overinflated, and the downturn began just a few short months afterward.

Last year’s Super Bowl featured 17 dot-com advertisers, most purchasing sponsorships and 30-second commercial spots for roughly $2 million apiece. Some even bought multiple slots. As we look back from where we stand now, it almost seems ridiculous.

Who’s going to reclaim the spotlight this weekend? The big players that have traditionally been center stage. In fact, the only three dot-coms running ads in 2001 will be E*TRADE, Hotjobs.com, and Monster.com, all of which have solid financial backing and seem to be weathering the tough market conditions just fine.

Better Value, Greater ROI

It would be easy to dwell on the other dot-coms that advertised last year — those that didn’t survive to advertise in 2001 — but I refuse to do so. As a strong believer in online media as a sustainable resource, I’ll continue to promote the value of careful, strategic online advertising. Many of the dot-coms that have so far survived the shakeout have reduced their offline spending, and some are finding better value from their advertising initiatives on the web.

With media prices at the mercy of the market and declining by the day, online ads continue to show greater ROI. As I stated in my last article, there is no better way to prove the true value of the online medium than to share success stories backed up by numbers that show returns on the back end. All the negative press shouldn’t overshadow the success stories.

By advertising online, a dot-com or brick-and-mortar advertiser can sell, develop brand awareness, obtain applications/registrations, or simply drive traffic to a site — and usually at a significantly lower cost than what traditional media would cost. Online advertising was an easy sell a year ago and should be an even easier sell after another year of experience, historical data, research, and case studies to build upon. The fact that the web is measurable and response driven means that placements and creatives can be measured and optimized on the fly, and returns associated with each initiative can be evaluated.

Big Bucks for Great Reach

There is no doubt that advertising during this Sunday’s Super Bowl can provide value to the advertiser able to spend the cash — the potential audience reach is 120-140 million Americans. Some of these players almost can’t afford not to advertise during the game.

Unfortunately, the majority of the world’s small businesses could never afford to promote themselves during the Super Bowl, although many of last year’s advertisers were in fact relatively small companies.

Furthermore, many big players use the occasion to launch a new ad campaign that will run throughout the year. It’s tough if you can’t afford to follow through afterward.

Worth the Price?

But is not being able to afford a big Super Bowl splash such a bad thing? Consider the following two scenarios.

A freshly funded dot-com contemplates buying a 30-second Super Bowl slot for $2 million. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say that the roughly 130 million viewers will take no bathroom breaks and watch every single commercial. (Hey, it’s been a crazy year for advertisers, so we’re going to make the audience suffer a bit, too!)

Buying that slot means mean the advertiser will have 30 seconds to capture the attention of 130 million viewers, make the message stick, and compel viewers to check out the site later on. (Keep in mind that a significant portion of the audience does not have Internet access.) How many conversions are likely to result?

Now, imagine that an advertiser takes that $2 million and does a very plain banner buy across networks on a CPC basis. Assume a $0.50 CPC for simplicity’s sake, although this is high. Throw in a viral component to the campaign, and use some great prizes as incentive. These combined actions would bring about four million visitors to the site plus their highly qualified referrals (which tend to grow exponentially).

Which of the two scenarios provides the best value to the advertiser?

I’d say there’s a good argument for online media here, especially since we are certain this audience has computers and Internet access. It’s a tough call, but it’s hard to argue with benefits like forecasting and measurement.

My final word: Giants by 6. Enjoy the game!

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